China's industrial output growth accelerated to 8.8 percent year-on-year in May, official data showed Friday, while retail sales hit their highest level since December in signs of renewed strength in the world's second-largest economy. The industrial production figure was stronger than the 8.7 percent recorded a month earlier and matched the median forecast of 8.8 percent in a poll of 15 economists by the Wall Street Journal. Retail sales, a key gauge of consumer spending, increased 12.5 percent last month from a year ago, the National Bureau of Statistics said, up from a gain of 11.9 percent in April and the highest since 13.6 percent at the end of last year. Fixed-asset investment, a main measure of government spending on infrastructure projects, rose by 17.2 percent year-on-year in the January-May period, slowing from a 17.3 percent rise in the first four months of the year.
Narendra Modi will step up a charm offensive with India's neighbours in the hope of stopping them falling into China's embrace when he travels next week to Bhutan on his first foreign trip since becoming prime minister. A month after his election, the Hindu nationalist premier will pay a two-day visit to the tiny Buddhist kingdom from Sunday when he will meet his counterpart Tshering Tobgay and King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. "We're honoured to have him choose Bhutan as the first country he's visiting," Tobgay said in comments published by the local Kuensel daily. Tobgay was one of seven regional leaders invited to Modi's inauguration and analysts say the decision to make Bhutan his first port of call is designed to underline the importance he attaches to neighbourly relations, which suffered under the last government.
Afghans head to the polls Saturday for a second-round election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, with the threat of Taliban attacks and fraud looming over the country's first democratic transfer of power. The vote pits former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani in a head-to-head contest to lead Afghanistan as US-led troops withdraw after 13 years of fighting Taliban insurgents. But Saturday presents another major challenge in the prolonged election process, which began with campaigning in early February and will end when the final result is announced on July 22. "We have been conducting missions all over Afghanistan for election security for the past two months."
By Nick Carey JACKSON Tenn. (Reuters) - The shock defeat of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary in Virginia this week has fueled hopes among Tea Party activists in Tennessee that they can stage a similar upset against Senator Lamar Alexander in August. But the Cantor loss, while enough to shake Washington and the Republican establishment, may not be a sign of things to come as the Tea Party movement has yet to show this year it can find a consistent winning formula against Republican incumbents. In Tennessee, Alexander’s challenger - Tea Party state representative Joe Carr – is regarded by many political experts as unqualified for a Senate race and he is trailing by up to 40 points in the polls. He is also up against a lawmaker who is well prepared and a statewide Republican Party that is pushing to thwart the Tea Party. "It's important not to rule out an upset after Cantor's upset," said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
The Bank of Japan on Friday held off expanding its stimulus programme and said the world's number three economy was recovering, despite fears a sales tax rise will dent growth. Investors are now awaiting a press briefing by BoJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda at about 3:30 pm local time (0630 GMT) for clues about future measures. The yen barely moved after the widely expected decision, which comes as the US Federal Reserve winds down its own stimulus and just over a week after the European Central Bank launched unprecedented easing to counter the threat of deflation in the eurozone. On Friday, the BoJ acknowledged that consumer demand and factory output had taken a hit after the April 1 tax hike, prior to which millions of shoppers went on a nationwide buying spree.
The US is reluctantly being dragged back into the smouldering ashes of the Iraq War amid accusations that its failure to intervene in Syria aided the rise of jihadists now closing in on Baghdad. More than a decade after the invasion and almost three years since the last US troops pulled out, Washington has been relegated to the sidelines as it watched Iraqi forces collapse in face of this week's surprise onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. The US has poured more than $25 billion into training and equipping the Iraqi army since 2003, and even State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki admitted there had been "a clear structural breakdown" among the security forces. With Baghdad now in ISIL's sights as it seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate stretching from Lebanon to Iran's Zagros Mountains, Washington is vowing to ramp up military aid.
Hillary Clinton's book launch looks undeniably like the prelude to a presidential campaign, but despite growing buzz, Democrats are scraping together Plans B, C and D in case she doesn't run. "If Hillary doesn't run, it's an open free-for-all," former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who ran for president 10 years ago and headed the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009, told AFP in a telephone interview. Clinton, who narrowly lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, has said she will likely decide after November's mid-term elections. A handful of Democratic alternatives are already being floated, including Vice President Joe Biden, who has acknowledged mulling another White House campaign.
By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - California lawmaker Kevin McCarthy emerged as the sole contender in the Republican contest to fill one of the top positions in the U.S. Congress after two candidates dropped out on Thursday, but some lawmakers said McCarthy was not conservative enough and hoped others would jump in the race. McCarthy, the House majority whip, has been asking other lawmakers to support his bid to become House of Representatives majority leader to succeed Eric Cantor, who is stepping down after his upset primary election defeat to a little-known challenger from the populist Tea Party movement.
It was a day of contrasts in Brazil as the country opened the World Cup with clashes between riot police and protesters in Sao Paulo, before wild street celebrations when the "selecao" beat Croatia 3-1 after coming from behind. The fireworks that exploded over the mega-city after each goal for Brazil made the tear gas and clashes just up the road from Corinthians Arena seem so much more distant. After months of violent protests over the $11 billion cost of hosting the World Cup, some who watched the victory with 300 others in a Sao Paulo street bedecked in yellow and green banners voiced hope such victories could tame the street rage.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Representative Pete Sessions said on Thursday night he was dropping out of the race for House majority leader, leaving just one candidate in the contest to replace Eric Cantor. "After thoughtful consideration, I made the decision to not continue my run for House Majority Leader," the Texas lawmaker said in a statement. "Today, it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party. ...
US Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Sudan for sentencing a Christian woman to hang for apostasy, urging Khartoum to repeal its laws banning Muslims from converting. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, who was born to a Muslim father, was sentenced to death on May 15 under Islamic sharia law that has been in place since 1983 and outlaws conversions under pain of death. "The United States remains deeply concerned about the conviction and continued imprisonment of Ms Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag," Kerry said in a statement. The top US diplomat said he was "deeply committed" to a better future for Sudan and its people.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton called upon Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom, echoing the comments made last week by her former boss Barack Obama. Speaking on BBC's Newsnight programme, Clinton said: "I would hate to have you lose Scotland" in the September referendum. "I hope that it doesn't happen but I don't have a vote in Scotland," she added. US President Obama last week suggested that Scotland would be better off remaining part of Britain, ahead of the September 18 vote.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne vowed "radical" planning reforms and more powers for the central bank in an attempt to curb the country's spiralling house prices. Making his keynote speech at London's Mansion House, Osborne announced plans to build up to 200,000 homes, heeding the advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which warned excessive demand was fuelling the boom. Osborne also revealed plans to strengthen the Bank of England's ability to impose restrictions on mortgage loan-to-value (LTV) and loan-to-income (LTI) ratios. Despite the IMF warning, Osborne insisted that house prices were of "no immediate cause for alarm", pointing out that house prices are still lower in real terms than they were in 2007.
A US official said Thursday the United States has repatriated a dozen inmates from a secretive military prison in Afghanistan where foreign terror suspects have been held for years without trial. A French national, a Kuwaiti and 10 Pakistani detainees were sent back to their home countries last month from the Parwan prison, the defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity. The move left 38 non-Afghan detainees at the prison. The Defense Department notified Congress of the transfer 10 days beforehand, the official added.
Jihadists moved nearer to Baghdad Thursday after capturing a town just hours to the north, as President Barack Obama said Washington was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse. With the militants closing in on the capital, forces from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region took control of Kirkuk, an ethnically divided northern city they have sought to rule for decades against the objections of successive governments in Baghdad. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari acknowledged the security forces which Washington invested billions in training and equipping before withdrawing its own troops in 2011, had simply melted away.
A Romanian using the online moniker "Guccifer" was indicted Thursday on US charges of hacking into email accounts of high-profile people including family of former presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush. Marcel Lehel Lazar, 42, is accused of wire fraud, unauthorized access to a protected computer, aggravated identity theft, cyberstalking and obstruction of justice.